Toldot - Weekly Torah Portion
The weekly reading of the Torah and the Haftarah provides speakers with endless opportunities to delve into the ancient scripts in many different ways and forms. It is an opportunity to investigate them once again from different angles and perspectives. This week’s reading is no different. Today I would like to deal with three aspects, two from the Torah and one of the Haftarah. From the Torah, among others, we read about Jacob’s famous story where he begins his journey to find a bride, much like Abraham’s servant when he was sent to find a bride for Jacob’s father, Isaac. It is evening and Jacob prepares himself for a night’s sleep, “and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.”
He surely slept well as he had a fantastic dream. In his dream “behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” In this presence of God, Jacob received a promise like his fathers before him, “Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” When Jacob wakes up he is in the moment, and he “took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top.” So we have a story of a dream, we have stones in the evening and a stone in the morning. We shall get back to that.
The prophet Malachi castigates the priests of his time, “…you are not taking it to heart… you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of hosts. “So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction.” He contrasts that with what is expected of the priests, “the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” There is no doubt that the prophet is troubled from the behavior he experiences from the priests that are far from the ideal that they should aspire for.
Dreams are often viewed with contempt of sorts, and true enough at times they do not speak the truth and may take us to unwanted places. On the other hand, the lack of dreams has a price too. Over a decade ago I met with a member of the Kamatz Congregation, then a vice president of the Israel Reform Movement, Gusti Yehoshua-Braverman, together with another member of our congregation and today a member of IMPJ’s board, Lior Ben Tsur, and together presented to Gusti a dream. The dream had to do with reforming the congregation, putting pieces together, and Gusti lent a generous hand in response. The gem stone which is the “Natan Ya” Congregation was once again whole. Handling crises situations requires the making of tough decisions but also having great dream. Your congregation knows that too.
Jointly with the chair of the Movement who served before, also a member of Kamatz, Yaron Shavit, and our successor Yair Lootsteen, we dreamt many dreams – some together – some by ourselves – and some we combined into a joint dream. These are not dreams of just climbing a ladder all the way to the top and forgetting to descended it to the everyday reality of life. Rather, we climbed the ladder, had our dream planned, and then descended into the reality of Israel which is multi-faceted and challenging. It is a reality where there are many stones lying around – some have to be disposed of, other have to be melted and then reconstructed. As leaders go there are those who demand that others be the doers and forget to first and foremost make demands from themselves. I am so proud to be a part of a Movement where both lay and professional leaders, members of the Movement, buckle down and work together beyond difficulties towards accomplishments that were a mere dream a decade ago.
Our Movement, like others, always needs a prophet to be there and check what is being done. Nevertheless I am confident that our past and present leadership act as we expect them to. The challenges they face are frequently great but the underlying substance behind the actions are simple and clear; the ways of truth, respect and honesty. This is particular important to remember when times are such as we are living in these days, dumbfounded as we observe leaders who have not read or understood what the prophet is preaching, regardless of if they are politicians or religious leaders. We should never lose our hope for better times. It is that loss of hope that allows the stone to fall apart and breakdown. It allows the angels of God to ascend the ladder and forget to come back to earth. It allows the priests to continue their wicked deeds.
During the past decade I delivered sermons before the congregants of the “Natan Ya” congregation of Netanya, that has also celebrated its Jubilee. My dream of publishing a first book became a reality with the publishing of “האזינו מבראשית – Listen from the Beginning”. It includes seventy three of my sermons out of over seven hundreds of them. I am glad to leave with you a signed copy of the book for the Kamatz Congregation library. May it contribute to the feeling that dreams can come true if we dare to dream, if we dare to ascend the ladder and descend to earth so it may be implemented. Connecting which seems not connectable, and walk at all times, as the prophet suggests, “in peace and uprightness”.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.
Reuven Marko, 29 November 2019, 2 Kislev, 5780